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The Friend Family War - Domestic Life and Trials

by Family History Day - The National Archives

Contributed by 
Family History Day - The National Archives
People in story: 
Ernest and Ivy Lethbridge, Derek Friend, Jessie Friend, Walter Friend
Location of story: 
Harrow to Smethwick Birmingham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 December 2004

This story was submitted by Kathryn Haslam of CSV Media on behalf of Derek Friend and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Walter and Jessie Friend lived in Harrow with their young son Derek.

Before Walter Friend was called up he worked for The Daily Mail and one day was stopped by Home Guard chaps who asked him to stop and say "friend or foe". He said "friend" and they asked him for his name and he said "friend" again so they thought he was suspect so they took him to the police station where he had to use all his powers of persuasion to convince them he was genuine.

Walter Friend was in the RAF in North Africa about 1942. He was in the older age group (aged about 36 when the war started) and so was called up later. He went to a training camp somewhere near Blackpool and Derek and Jessie went on at train from Euston to see him when Derek was four years old. There were lots of soldiers on the train returning to the camp and Derek and Jessie had to sit and lie on the kit bags in the corridor. When he was in North Africa he would sent postcards of cartoon Arab characters in funny situations that he would send Derek in the letter to Jessie (which was heavily censored).

Jessie was now looking after Derek by herself in their home Mentmore Close in Kenton, Harrow. and by now the Blitz was really full on.

Walter had a sister who lived in the East End and Jessie and Derek went to visit her one day. During the train journey there was an air raid warning and they had to stop at the station and go down into the underground platform and shelter. There were bunk beds on the platform where people would sleep.

Living at home the war effort meant that Jessie kept 30 chickens (for eggs and meat at Christmas) and grew vegetables including tomatoes,cabbages, potatoes etc. Derek himself grew raddishes as he was very young and they were easy for him. The tomatoes were harvested when they were green, wrapped in newspaper and stored in a box so they could be kept. The neighbours next door bottled it all. The people next door kept rabbits and so they would swop chickens for rabbits! So people weren't too hungry.

The blackouts were a major feature of life and you had to put a black cloth over the windows which as a child you were in complete darkness apart from little tea light candles. Sometimes the wardens would knock on the door and say they could see light from the window so you had to adjust the blackout asap.

Derek remembers the Anderson shelter in the living room and recalls looking out the room one day and seeing a silver glinting rocket and the motor stopped as he was watching it (the pre-emptive sign of explosion). He knew he was safe because it would go further before it hit - that one landed a mile away from the home. This was near enough to break the locks off the doors and fling them open.

This probably concerned Jessie enough to consider evacuation for both her and Derek around late 1944. The family they stayed with were Ernest and Ivy Lethbridge who were a middle class couple probably with no children. He was a chief draftsmen at Lucas who were based in Birmingham.

Derek was now aged 6 to 7 and had to school - where he remembers doing painting in the classroom. The other children thought he was a bit different and nicknamed him "Johnny London" as he had a different accent. He wasn't that happy there mainly because of the teasing and did play truant as a result!

Jessie and Derek were evacuated for 3 to 4 months before returning to London. Jessie corresponded with Ernest and Ivy for sixty years until they died.

Returning to the family home Derek remembers the day when Walter was demobbed. There were 12 houses in the close and he was the only one in the services as the other men were too old. Consequently when they knew he was coming home all the street put up bunting and flags and welcome home signs. Jessie received notification of Walter's demob date and went with Derek on his tricycle to Kenton station. He saw a serviceman in uniform with a large kit bag. Derek had no memory of Walter's appearance so rode up to this man and said "are you my daddy?" and seeing Jessie behind Walter said "yes". He picked Derek up and all headed back for the celebrations..

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